Until March 27, we’ll be counting down the 50 greatest Phillies games of the last 50 years. This is 50 of 50.
And this is No. 5.
THE DATE: Oct. 4, 1980
THE GAME: Phillies vs. Montreal Expos, Olympic Stadium, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
THE STAKES: A win, and the division is theirs.
THE GREAT: “HE BURIED IT!”
Mike Schmidt was born Sept. 27, 1949. He was drafted by the Phillies on June 8, 1971. And on Oct. 4, 1980, he authored the defining play of his 18-year career.
“HE BURIED IT!”
Ever watch Schmidt swing the bat? He crouched just enough, locked in on his pitch, then let his legs do the work. Sure he had a longer swing sometimes, but it looked so pretty as his hips powered the rest of his body. Sometimes he’d get just enough of the ball to line it into the gap. Sometimes he’d knock it a little higher, and typically it would hop over an outfield fence.
And sometimes, if he got the whole ball with the barrel, that ball would just fly.
“HE BURIED IT!”
Schmidt never hit titanic blasts like his longtime slugging partner Greg Luzinski. He didn’t have the menace of a George Foster or the tall-boy poke of Dave Kingman. But he was gifted with the ability to frequently hit balls 350 to 400 feet into the air. It’s as if Schmidt was born for one thing, and it was to hit home runs for a major league baseball team. It just so happened that the team that got him was the Phillies.
“HE BURIED IT!”
Pete Rose stood on first base, Stan Bahnsen on the mound. The first pitch was low, grazing the dirt and pulling Gary Carter up from the backstop to keep Rose from advancing. The second pitch also came in low, but around the knees and a little off the plate. Schmidt strode out, stroking the bat before stopping it short, a check swing.
After a pause, Schmidt returned to the box and Bahnsen wound up. He had to throw a fastball; he hoped to keep it away from Schmidt’s sweet spot.
This was the 11th inning of a 4-4 game. The Phillies, owners of a one-game lead in the National League East division with two games to play, could wrap up the division crown with a win. And it was a battle getting there – the Phils danced and dozed through the summer of 1980, but manager Dallas Green (RIP) whipped the guys into shape for the stretch run. After taking a slight division lead with 10 days left in the season, the Phils lost two of three – and the division lead – to the Expos.
But they came right back to sweep the Cubs, then took the first game of a three-game set in Montreal to get up a game with two left.
The Expos wouldn’t stop punching. Led by ace Steve Rogers, Montreal kept a 2-1 lead into the seventh inning of this Oct. 4 game. Then the Phils broke through as Luzinski singled home two, just before bad baserunning ended the inning on a wild double play to close Luzinski’s appearance.
Still, a 3-2 lead. Until late-season acquisition Sparky Lyle gave up two runs in the bottom of the inning.
It seemed over. But down to their last out, and facing a winner-take-all division championship, Bob Boone punched a single into centerfield, scoring a stumbling Bake McBride. Tie game. 4-4.
Tug McGraw pitched two strong innings afterward, sending the game to the 11th, when with Pete Rose at first, and a 2-0 count facing Mike Schmidt, Stan Bahnsen delivered his fastball.
Mike Schmidt was thought of as unable to come through in the clutch. Fans derided the slugger for putting up poor results in big situations, especially in the 1977 and ’78 National League Championship Series. For many, he epitomized the Phillies teams of the era, easy-going fellas who were too soft to win the big game. Even though Schmidt was the best player on the best teams ever for a franchise that itself epitomized failure, he was considered by many to be a symbol of failure.
Andy Musser delivered the iconic line, and there’s nothing more appropriate he or anyone could’ve said. Schmidt did, in fact, bury it. Not only did he bury the baseball with maybe the most perfect home run swing anyone’s ever seen, but he buried all the talk about that inability to come up big. He buried the ghosts that flew around the Phils, the ones that rendered the team unable to win the necessary game.
And after he buried it, Schmidt led his Phillies through five of the most hellish and breathtaking games in baseball history, somehow emerging from the ring the National League champion. Then he took center stage as the Phils vanquished every ghost that remained, winning World Series MVP honors along the way against Kansas City.
On Oct. 4, 1980, in Montreal, Mike Schmidt buried the past. All it took was arguably the biggest home run in franchise history.